On Sunday night, the Screen Actors Guild Awards capped off their evening by awarding the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture trophy to Everything Everywhere All at Once. It was an emotional moment, anchored by 94-year-old actor James Hong’s moving speech about the racism he had to endure in the early days of his career. It also cemented the film’s status as the favorite to win Best Picture at next month’s Academy Awards. But the moment was marred by the Guild’s inexplicable decision to have the history-making Asian cast be presented their award by a man who served jail time for committing hate crimes against two Vietnamese men.
We’re talking, of course, about Mark Wahlberg, who was arrested in 1988 at the age of 16 after he violently attacked two Vietnamese-American men on the same day, knocking one unconscious with a large wooden stick and punching the other in the eye. Investigators at the time noted in their reports that he had repeatedly used racist slurs for Asian people during and after the attacks. (Wahlberg later claimed he was high on PCP during the incident, as if the drug somehow has the ability to magically make people racist.) He was originally charged with attempted murder, but he eventually pled guilty to felony assault and was sentenced to two years in prison. He served 45 days of that sentence.
So, as you can imagine, the optics of having Hong recall how Hollywood used to cast white actors with their eyes cartoonishly taped up to play Asian characters instead of casting actual Asian performers while he was standing just feet away from a man who was ranting and raving about “slant-eyed gooks” when the cops arrested him for viciously attacking two Asian men were not great. How did an oversight like this happen? And more importantly, why? Wahlberg is not currently starring in any of this year’s nominated films. They could have gone with literally anyone else who hasn’t committed hate crimes, and yet they chose Marky Mark for reasons unknown.
To be clear, no one is arguing that Wahlberg should be “canceled” entirely in 2023 for his actions more than 30 years ago. People are capable of change and growth, and he was a minor at the time of the attack. But, as one person on Twitter put it, “I love how everyone’s like you never made mistakes as a teen? Like yeah I drank too much Bacardi limon and made out with my friends ex, I didn’t commit hate crimes??”
It’d be easier to forgive Wahlberg for his past racist transgressions if he’d made more of a public effort to take accountability for them. In 2014, he did the opposite, seeking a pardon for his 1988 conviction. He eventually dropped the bid for pardon following public pressure from Asian-American organizations. In 2016, he announced that he was able to meet with one of the victims of his attack in person and “apologize for those horrific acts.” But why did it take him decades to do so? Why did he only finally get around to meeting with one of the men after he faced backlash for seeking a pardon? And did his other victim ever receive a similar apology?
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If Wahlberg doesn’t want to be haunted by his past forever, he should be publicly speaking out against racism every chance he gets, donating to charities dedicated to combating it and showing us that he’s truly done the work on himself. Until then, it’s hard not to feel like he isn’t genuinely sorry. And let’s not forget: the 1988 attacks weren’t the only racially charged incident in his past. In 1986, a 15-year-old Wahlberg and three of his friends chased a group of Black children while yelling “Kill the n***er” and throwing rocks at them. The next day, he and his friends followed a group of Black fourth-graders at the beach, once again throwing rocks and hurling racial slurs at them. When do those people get their apologies?
In the meantime, the very least we can do is find someone else to hand out the trophies.
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